Haffin v. Mason - 82 U.S. 671 (1872)
U.S. Supreme Court
Haffin v. Mason, 82 U.S. 15 Wall. 671 671 (1872)
Haffin v. Mason
82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 671
If a collector of internal revenue, under the Internal Revenue Act of June 30, 1864, have a proper warrant from the assessor for the collection of taxes specially assessed for deficiency of an original return, he cannot be sued in trespass for distraining and selling the taxpayer's property on such person's refusal to pay the new assessment, even though such assessment have been illegally made. The warrant of the assessor is a justification to him. Erskine v. Hohnbach, 14 Wall. 613, affirmed. Hence, a recovery cannot be had in an action of trespass against him and an assessor for an assessment made by the assessor in disregard of the act, however such recovery could be had against the assessor in an action against him alone.
The Act of June 30, 1864, "to provide internal revenue to support the government," &c., [Footnote 1] makes it the duty of distillers to make and return to the assessor of their district a
list of the merchandise made or sold by them, and if they make a list which in the opinion of the assessor is false or fraudulent or contains any understatement or undervaluation, it is made the duty of the assessor -- it being made "lawful" for him first to give notice to the party, and summon such party before him to give testimony and to answer interrogatories respecting his trade and sales, and in case of a neglect of the party on such notice to come before him, then to have him summoned before the judge of the district whose duty it is made by himself or his commissioner, on the parties being brought before him, to hear the case -- to make, according to the best information he can obtain, a true list, according to a form which the statute prescribes, "of the property, goods, wares, and merchandise, and all articles or objects liable to duty or tax, . . . and assess the duty thereon," adding in certain cases penalties prescribed; "and the amount" so added to the duty "shall in all cases," says the act,
"be collected by the collector at the same time and in the same manner with the duties, and the lists or returns so made . . . shall be taken and reputed as good and sufficient lists or returns for all legal purposes."
Other parts of the act authorize distress and sale of the party's property for nonpayment of duties lawfully assessed.
With this act in force Hyatt, assessor of internal revenue for one of the districts of New York, being or professing to be of the opinion that Haffin and Wagner, distillers there -- who had made certain returns which they alleged to be true, and paid taxes upon them -- had not in a list rendered by them made a true return of liquors which they had distilled during a term specified, made out -- in a form somewhat peculiar and purporting to be an assessment upon "deficiency on returns," and without giving to the distillers any notice of the increased enumeration or of his action, and so without giving them any opportunity to be heard -- a new list, which, having duly certified, he gave to one Mason the collector of the district, that he might collect the amount charged. Mason made a demand at the distillery for payment of the sum, and payment being refused, he distrained
upon the distillery and other property of the distillers and sold it at auction, the distillers being present and protesting against the sale. Hereupon they brought an action of trespass against both Hyatt and Mason on the ground that the whole proceeding was wrongful, as they had made correct returns of their business, paid all the taxes properly chargeable upon it, and done nothing which justified the action of the assessor. Plea, "not guilty." On the trial, the plaintiffs having given evidence tending to show, as they considered a noncompliance by Hyatt, the assessor, with requisitions made by the internal revenue act, requisitions (as they considered) precedent to any lawful levy on a new list -- and the new list in this case being in evidence without objection, and without any point raised as to its form or sufficiency -- requested the court to charge
"that the defendants were liable in this action, and that the plaintiffs were entitled to judgment for the value of the property seized and sold by the defendant Mason as aforesaid."
The court refused so to charge, and directed the jury to find for the defendants, which they did. Judgment having been entered accordingly, the plaintiffs brought the case here.